According to a Chestnut Hiller who knows a little something about marketing, when their pre-game hi-jinks are more exciting than the game itself, you know the 76ers are in trouble. (Photo by Daniel Burke)

by Debra Malinics

Being in marketing, I know the importance of having a solid message behind a product. If you rely on fluff, the product will always pale by comparison. Glitz may attract, but at some point, there has to be something of value behind the glitz; otherwise, the buyer loses interest, and the product loses value. You couldn’t find a better example of this than at a recent basketball game.

I was recently invited to a Sixers’ basketball game and skybox, pre-game party. I liked the party part and thought I would leave when the game began because, frankly, I’m not a sports fan. This was made evident when I used the only line I knew to hide my lack of sports knowledge: “Aren’t those Sixers great?” Not so, I quickly learned, since the Sixers have lost more than 60 percent of their games this season.

As game time was nearing, I was preparing to leave when all hell seemed to break lose. Suddenly the court was filling with people dancing, jumping, running. Crowd pumpers, men waving and cheering, were on court. There were dancing girls, lots of them — Rockettes with gymnastic genes in overdrive. While they danced, the pumpers pumped, and the audience screamed and yelled, hooted and hollered. It was mayhem. Next came fire from a fire-spouting machine. With every flame came a puff; boom boom boom sound as drums were added to the eclectic mix. Big drums. Loud drums. Add blinking lights, rotating digital ads, horns, and it felt the way gladiator season must have felt like in ancient Rome.

Next came what looked like a mini Zamboni — two, maybe more, who could count with all the dancing girls and crowd pumpers? I still had only one sleeve of my coat on — this after 10 minutes — when, from the mouth of these machines, flew a package that soared and sailed into the air, flying with the ease of a bird.

“What is that?” I whispered to someone. Curiously, he looked at me and said, “It’s the Hatfield hot dog launcher.” Oh?

How could I not know that? Those were hot dogs flying through the air, one after another, flying into an audience screaming with delight. And while the hot dogs flew, the horns blared, the drums drummed, the fire flared, the dancing girls danced, and the crowd pumpers pumped, and an announcer boomed that the game was about to begin. Ahhhh, I knew there was a basketball game hidden somewhere in the hoopla!

Each player made a grand entrance; more horns, flames, drums and cheers. I was in Rome, this was the Amphitheater, and it was just spruced up a bit with flying hot dogs. They probably had those in ancient Rome too; they were just on a spear!

And so, the game began. Well, after that intro, who could possibly be interested in seeing a ball shot through a hoop? Where was the drama? Why wasn’t that basket spinning? Or the ball in day-glo colors? Everything seemed so calm, so tired, so fatigued. The crowd seemed to think so, too. As I slipped my coat on the other arm, I looked around. People were on their phones, they were texting, they were talking to each other. Was anyone watching the game? Well, call me crazy, but if you begin a game with a machine that shoots hot dogs, will anyone be interested in watching men in shorts shoot a ball through a hoop?

I couldn’t help but think that somehow, somewhere, the show got reversed. The real show was before the game instead of the game itself. A ticket was purchased to see the Sixers play basketball, but somehow, it seemed that people came to see the initial show and couldn’t care less about seeing the team play. Did they feel let down after the hoopla? The Sixers just didn’t measure up … and it showed. The real show was the fire machine, the girls, the pumpers, the flying hot dogs, the rotating ads, the blinking lights, horns and drums.

The marketing parallel was obvious. You can create a lot of hoopla with your copy, your commercials, your on-line talk — a lot of flame and fire, but when you get to the product, you can’t depend on fluff to carry it through. Your product has to be solid. You have to have substance behind the message, and if you don’t, people won’t pay attention, because you never backed up the fluff with something of value.

If you depend on fluff without substance, you’ll only ever be selling fluff; it can bring people in, but it won’t keep their interest. Imagine a concert with all the bells and whistles but with a terrible singer and band. A big letdown after a big intro. But look at a real performer, a Lady Ga Ga. There’s substance behind the fluff; there’s value behind the glitz and glam. People are drawn and excited not only by the pre-game show, but also by the star herself! She’s got value, worth. She is the brand!

Who would have thought that a Sixers’ game would be a marketing message in disguise. “Aren’t those Sixers Great?”

Debra Malinics, a Chestnut Hill resident, is the owner of DMA Communications, a strategic advertising, marketing and communications firm in center city. For more information, visit